During the coronavirus outbreak, many of us are having to isolate and quarantine. One great way to cope during the outbreak is to dive deep into a big book.
Even better: tackle a new series.
If you’re looking for ideas, here are seven options for Catholics who take their faith seriously.
1. The Bible
Thanks to the reforms of Vatican II, many faithful Catholics today already know their Bibles fairly well. This is your opportunity to venture beyond familiar territory like Genesis, the gospels, and the epistles of Paul. St. John Henry Newman once described Scripture as an “unexplored and unsubdued land, with heights and valleys, forests and streams, on the right and left of our path and close about us, full of concealed wonders and choice treasures.” Now is the time to venture off into one of those hidden valleys of Scripture. Ponder the passion and melancholy of Jeremiah. Journey into the existential angst of Job. Let yourself be seduced by the beauty and joy of Songs of Songs.
2. St. Augustine
If you’ve been wondering when you will ever have time to read the City of God, this is it. At 1,091 pages, at least in the Penguin Classics edition, that should keep you busy. If you’re looking for something less historical and political and more purely theology, then check out De Trinitate, a work of genius which explains what the Trinity is.
3. St. Gregory of Nyssa
Although far less known as Augustine, this Cappadocian Father was nearly his peer when it comes both to output and theological insight. As with Augustine, his readings are available online at NewAdvent here. For a fresh take on what it means to be human read On the Making of Man. For a searching meditation on the nature of the soul and the truth of the resurrection of the dead check out On the Soul and the Resurrection. If you want a single-volume work, this edition available online here offers 1,102 pages worth of reading.
4. St. Thomas Aquinas
This is your chance to go spelunking in the Summa Theologica, which is available in its entirely online here. Although many faithful Catholics are already quite familiar with Summa, there are hundreds and hundreds of nooks and crannies that remain undiscovered. Why can’t the demons be redeemed? How are our bodies related to the operations of our souls? Why did Jesus descend into hell? Aquinas has the answers to these and many, many other questions. Although his language may sometimes seem inaccessible, the Summa has the advantage of having a very detailed table of contents, with a text that is broken out into smaller bite-sized pieces that make it easier to digest. If you still need a guide, I recommend the Dominicans’ Aquinas 101 video series—which is also helpful if you need a breather from all that reading you’ve been doing.
5. Henri de Lubac
Members of the nouvelle théologie movement sought to read Church Fathers directly, instead of through the lens of Aquinas. Of course, Aquinas remains the universal doctor of the Church, but these theologians helped us to see anew great truths of the faith. Hans Urs von Balthasar, who received praise from Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, are among these theologians. But de Lubac is far more accessible.
6. Frederick Copleston’s History of Western Philosophy
If you have extra time on your hands and want a real challenge, look no further than Frederick Copleston’s magisterial nine-volume History of Philosophy, from Socrates to Sartre. And it’s all told from a faithfully Catholic perspective, weaved together by a top Oxford scholar who was a Jesuit. Kick off with the 544-page first volume, available here.
7. Warren Carroll’s Christendom series
What Copleston is to philosophy, Carroll is to history. Carroll’s epic history of the Catholic Church stretches back to Genesis and encompasses the full sweep of history, all the way up to the current era of globalization. Carroll has a passion for truth and the reality of God’s intervention in history that makes his work unique. Carroll also has a rare gift for capturing the essence of an era and describing the motives and character of the individuals who shaped it. His account of the truth of the gospels and what made medieval Catholicism great are particular treasures. Begin with the first volume, the Foundation of Christendom, available here.